The Case for Chasing Failure

At the gym, our instructors tell us to “chase failure” — to go beyond fatigued to the point of muscle failure. It makes sense when it comes to working out. But what does “chasing failure” look like in other parts of life?

You’ve heard the Thomas Edison story about the light bulb — how every failure led him one attempt closer to success. And the Wright brothers crashed a lot before they finally flew. A quick search on YouTube for “epic fail” and you’ll find video after video of people crashing, falling and mucking things up. Are they all chasing failure?

In the dictionary, success and failure are antonyms — they mean the direct opposite of each other. In the gym, chasing failure brings success. Today my muscles failed at the end of the third set of bicep curls. But the next time we do biceps, I’ll be stronger for it. Oddly, I feel the same sense of satisfaction when my muscles fail that I do when I complete my reps.

I’ve come up with examples about how I chase failure in my work. For example, I have MANY unfinished blog posts. I write a little every day and some of my ideas, well let’s just say they are left unrealized for good reason. I also chase failure when coaching. In search of the right question — the one that is begging to be asked, I ask some wrong ones. They are confusing to the client or don’t land quite right. And if you’ve seen me present or deliver a workshop, you know how I can butcher an analogy, taking it so far it gets lost in translation and loses all impact.

In the end, though, all this chasing failure leads to greater success. Some of my worst drafts have become my favorite blog posts. Stupid questions and bad analogies lead to better ones. Clunky conversations become food for thought and opportunities for improvement. Even when it comes to winning new customers, every lost contract paves the way for the next win.

In a continuous improvement culture, chasing failure is the norm — though you might not think of it in this way. CI is about making small, incremental changes and seeing if they work. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they make things worse — at least for a while. I’ll never forget my first 5S project. We sorted and straightened and rearranged to the point that you couldn’t find anything. Nothing was where it used to be. People in the work area complained for days and begged us to put it all back. It took about a week, maybe two before we started seeing consistent productivity. We had to make a few small tweaks and a couple major ones before we could call that project complete.

I’m an achiever and I’ve spent a lot of time believing failure was a bad thing. I was wrong. Today, if I’m chasing failure, then I’m pushing the envelope, seeing how far I can go. I’ve learned that my success is just outside my comfort zone — and sometimes WAY outside the comfort zones of my friends and family.

What does chasing failure look like in your world? How could you use this concept to make your world better? When is the last time you pushed yourself that hard? What if losing was the quickest way to win?

Chasing failure will take you farther than chasing success ever will.

In my research about chasing failure, I found Ryan Leak is a speaker and author. You’ll find his video, Chasing Failure, on the website. It’s 15 minutes and worth watching. I’ll leave you where Ryan’s video begins, with a quote from Maya Angelou: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

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Susan LaCasse

Susan brings 25 years experience in driving change in a variety of project and leadership roles. Common to these roles were leadership development, process improvement and change management.

Susan is a student of human behavior, constantly seeking the latest in theories and tools. She also understands how organizations work. Together, she uses this combination to help her clients create positive, lasting change. Susan is a unique combination of coach, catalyst and trusted adviser.


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